The Times of Israel: LONDON — British Jews need to become as comfortable listening to genuine criticism of Israel as they are at discussing rising levels of anti-Semitism, and not fear giving “ammunition” to the other side, a leading British Jewish commentator suggested this week.
Speaking at a debate in London on anti-Semitism and Islamophobia hosted by the Guardian on Monday evening, journalist Jonathan Freedland said that when it comes to the Middle East “you so often need to say both things” and called on the community to accept that. He argued that acknowledging rising levels of anti-Semitism in the UK should not be seen to run contrary to criticism of Israeli Government actions.
“People are comfortable saying the first thing,” he said. “But when I go on to say I think Israel’s response was wrongheaded they will denounce me.”
The wide-ranging but polite debate saw discussion of the Tricycle Theatre’s recent (now reversed) refusal to host the UK Jewish Film Festival if it maintained Israeli funding, and calls for a moratorium on Holocaust analogies in discussion of the Middle East. Editor Mehdi Hasan and Freedland highlighted high levels of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in the UK and suggested there should be common cause in ending it.
Freedland, a writer for the Guardian and the Jewish Chronicle, made clear his warmth for Anglo-Jewry in his comments. But he also viewed Israel’s actions in Gaza this summer as self-defeating and emphasized that encouraging debate within the community is crucial.
“There is no shortage of Jewish critics of Israel, but those who are committed to the Jewish community? Not so much,” he said. “If you really want progress, the people who will make it happen are the people who are listened to by their own communities,” he said. “If you do want progress then you do have to win over people on both sides.”
‘There is no shortage of Jewish critics of Israel, but those who are committed to the Jewish community? Not so much’
He was joined in the discussion by British Muslim commentator Hasan, the political editor of the Huffington Post UK, who last year wrote a widely-discussed piece criticizing his own community for tolerating anti-Semitism.